Sonics Update

  • Thursday, November 1, 2001 9:00pm
  • Sports

Opponent: Utah Jazz

When: 6 p.m. Saturday

Where: KeyArena, Seattle

TV: KONG (Ch. 6/16)

Radio: KJR (950 AM)

Festivities: There were extended pregame ceremonies before Thursday’s opener, beginning with introductions of the entire rosters of both teams. The biggest cheers, as expected, were given to Gary Payton. When last season ended, there was no guarantee that Payton would return, and the fans gave a hearty welcome to the team’s longtime star.

With members of the Puget Sound Urban Rescue Task Force (who participated in rescue efforts in New York after the Sept. 11 attacks) lining the court, a taped message from President Bush was shown on the arena’s video screen. Singer Pat Wright then performed “God Bless America” and “The Star Spangled Banner” as players and coaches from both teams unfurled streamers representing the American flag on the court.

Seattle guard Brent Barry then welcomed the crowd and recited a light-hearted poem which, in his words, “is appropriately titled ‘Opening Night Poem.’ “

After the two teams exchanged handshakes at midcourt, several Sonics from years past were introduced. The group included Dean Tolson, Talvin Skinner, Russ Schoene, James Donaldson, John Johnson, Slick Watts, Jack Sikma and longtime Sonics broadcaster Bob Blackburn.

Dandy dunk: Desmond Mason put a few frames on his 2001-02 highlight film with a sensational dunk midway through the second period. Mason beat San Antonio’s Steve Smith along the left baseline, then soared for a head-high-to-the-rim jam, drawing a foul from Spurs center David Robinson.

Learning new habits: Seattle’s Vin Baker lost 15 pounds during the offseason, mostly through tedious individual workouts. His new slimmer physique, though, has produced a new set of problems.

“I have to get rid of old fat habits,” Baker confessed.

Such as?

“I have to get rid of the habit of rushing out on the court,” said Baker, citing a tendency that caused him to miss repeated layins the last few years. “I’ve got to concentrate on finishing. I’m getting to the lane (quickly) and now no one is there, but I’m thinking that someone is going to block my shot. It’s going to be a timing thing for me and just getting my confidence going.”

Said teammate Gary Payton: “We’re going to see (the old Vin) this season. I think he’s going to have a great year. He’s got his weight down, he’s feeling good about himself. He’s going to get back to where he needs to be.”

Big on Booth: Though the season is still young, the Sonics have apparently improved their play at center by signing Calvin Booth as an offseason free agent. Booth, though lacking experience as a third-year-player, has displayed a quickness and agility that were missing a year ago during Patrick Ewing’s one season with the Sonics.

“Calvin is a terrific young center,” Baker said. “He knows the game well and he has a great outside shot and he’s a great defender, and he’s willing to learn. He’s been a breath of fresh air on the front line to play with.”

Short shots: Elise Woodward, a Mill Creek resident, will be doing a sideline report during Sonics home telecasts this season. Woodward is a reporter for Fox Sports Net Northwest and did color commentary for radio/television broadcasts of Seattle Storm games this past WNBA season. … Seattle Mariners reliever Jeff Nelson, a big basketball fan, watched the game from a seat near courtside.

Rich Myhre

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